Oconee County football found its rhythm in last Friday night’s game against Clarke Central.
The Warriors beat the Gladiators 21-2 at Billy Henderson Stadium in Athens, improving their season record to 3-0 while Clarke Central fell to 0-2.
It was a slow first quarter for both teams. An interception by Billy Lewis allowed the Warriors a chance to put up the first points of the game with a field goal by Gabe Valdez.
The start of the second quarter began in the same manner. Neither Oconee County nor Clarke Central was able to put the ball in the end zone.
With seven minutes left, Valdez again found the goalposts to add 3 points for the Warriors, increasing the lead to 6-0.
The game’s touchdown drought did not last much longer.
With 3:29 left on the clock, quarterback Jacob Wright completed a pass to Whit Weeks, who found the end zone.
“I knew there was going to be some gaps because their outside backer was bumped out over our No. 2 receiver, so I just got in right behind them, caught it, and then just ran right into the end zone,” Weeks said.
Oconee opted out of an extra point and instead went for a 2-point conversion. Wright completed a pass to make the score 14-0.
An interception by Clarke Central on the 2-yard line gave the home Gladiators the spark they needed. Unfortunately for Clarke Central, the halftime buzzer sounded before it could take advantage of the turnover.
Oconee County head coach Travis Noland entered the locker room with his team still leading by 14.
“(Noland) said they were going to come out fast in the first six minutes of the second half and that’s exactly what they did,” Weeks said. “I mean they got us down here inside the 10, had a safety, but we bounced back and were able to stop them on defense when they got back down there.”
The Gladiators responded almost immediately at the start of the second half.
A safety forced by the defense put the home team on the board for the first time of the night, still trailing 14-2.
The Clarke Central offense used a turnover to find the red zone, but the Oconee County defense was determined to prevent the Gladiators from scoring.
With the ball on the 8-yard line or less each time, the Warriors stopped the offense four times in a row to keep the Gladiator offense at bay.
The final quarter of the night opened with Oconee County running back C.J. Jones’s first receiving touchdown of the season. While Jones had struggled with receptions all night, a dime pass set him up for a 28-yard touchdown.
Neither team scored again for the remainder of the night, with the visiting Warriors taking their win by a score of 21-2.
Even with the prevailing offense, the Oconee County defense won the game. The Warriors forced four turnovers from Clarke Central.
Weeks said the dominant defensive performance was indicative of improvements made this season following the graduation of several defensive starters.
“I think this was our best team win of the season,” Weeks said. “Since we lost all those starters on defense from last year, in the first two games, our fundamentals weren’t good and you could just tell we were lacking experience on defense. But I felt like we came out here [last week] and put on a show. The defense had a shutout so I’m really proud of us.”
Despite a slow start to the game, Wright finished the night with 12 completions covering 150 yards and earning two touchdowns.
In his second year as starting quarterback, Wright continues to find more confidence in his game.
“There’s some plays that he made with his feet [last Friday] that he hadn’t made all year so hopefully he’ll just keep getting better each week,” Noland said.
The Warriors found their shift in momentum at the right time. They now need to prepare to host Thomasville, another 3-0 team, on Sept. 17 following a bye week this Friday.
“Thomasville comes in here in two weeks, they’re one of the top 2A teams in the state and they think they’ve got a great chance to win a state championship this year,” Noland said. “We’ll just take each day and try to get a little better, which I think we’ve done over the last three weeks, and we’ll play each game one at a time.”